A 23-year-old man is awaiting extradition to Alexandria for the November 7 murder of a man in the West End.

Ahmed Mohammed Shareef, of Cosa Mesta, California, was indicted by a Grand Jury for killing 23-year-old Yousef Tarek Omar in the 4800 block of West Braddock Road. It was the City’s third and final homicide of 2020.

“It is alleged that the murder was committed in furtherance of the drug trafficking organization,” the  Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Shareef is one of 17 people indicted and arrested on charges related to a racketeering conspiracy that involved a “complex drug trafficking organization” allegedly responsible for the sale of approximately $500,000 worth of marijuana.

The investigation, which included multiple law enforcement agencies throughout the region and in Washington State and California, resulted in the seizure of at least 23 firearms, including three assault rifles and high capacity magazines. At least $274,795 in U.S. currency was also taken, in addition to cocaine and other controlled substances, digital scales and electronic money counters, fake identification and driver’s license cards, and multiple vehicles.

“I want to thank the Alexandria Police Department’s Vice/Narcotics Section and the multitude of partner law enforcement agencies for their diligent and professional work on this investigation,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said. “The collaborative effort between the partner law enforcement agencies shows true professionalism and determination to halt the cycle of violence inherent in complex drug trafficking organizations.”

Shareef faces life in prison for the murder charge, three years for the firearms charge and up to 40 years for the racketeering charge.

No trial dates have been set.

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Morning Notes

Suit alleging admissions discrimination at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology moves forward — “More than 70 percent of the student body at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is Asian American; Black and Hispanic students have been woefully underrepresented there for decades. At a hearing Friday in Alexandria, lawyers for the Fairfax County School Board urged a judge to toss out the lawsuit. They argue that the new admissions policies are race-neutral. But the judge ruled that the parents’ group made a compelling claim that the board’s true motivation was to increase Black and Hispanic representation at the expense of Asian Americans.” [WAVY.com]

Alexandria Symphony Orchestra extends contract for Maestro James Ross — “The Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO) announced that Music Director James Ross received a contract extension through the 2023-24 season. Ross has been at the helm of ASO since 2018. He is the fifth music director in ASO’s 78-year history.” [Zebra]

Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office tackling workplace stress with wellness challenge — “May is National Employee Health and Wellness Month. For the first time, my office has fully embraced that designation by implementing our ‘Mindful May Wellness Challenge.’ In addition to providing our employees with advice on mindfulness, we have constructed a month of activities and events designed to focus on employee wellness.” [AlexTimes]

Alexandria Drive-In announces June movies — “Tickets are $40 per car, and food trucks will be on-site each night providing delish, savory, and sweet concessions with online ordering through Goodfynd! Proceeds from the movie series will benefit local Alexandria charity, ATHENA Rapid Response Innovation Lab.” [Alexandria Living]

New sign unveiled in Del Ray for hero Rocky Versace — “Alexandria’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Del Ray bears Versace’s name and now, through the efforts of the Friends of Rocky Versace and the City of Alexandria, that narrative was unveiled May 15 during an Armed Forces Day ceremony at the local landmark.” [Gazette]

Local businesses struggle adapting to new mask guidance — ‘”My fear is that people will say they’re vaccinated when they’re not vaccinated and then just walk around unmasked,’ said Nicole McGrew, owner of the clothing and accessories boutique Threadleaf in Old Town Alexandria.” [NPR]

This Friday is the deadline to request a ballot by mail — “Last day to request a ballot by mail for the June 8 Democratic Party Primary Election. Applications must be received in the Voter Registration Office by 5pm. Applications may be submitted online (http://elections.virginia.gov) or by mail, fax (703.838.6449) or email ([email protected])” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Overcast with rain showers at times. High around 70F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%… Rain showers early with overcast skies late. Low 59F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Surveillance investigator — “DigiStream Investigations, a fast-growing private investigations firm, seeks a full-time Surveillance Investigator to work under general supervision, investigating suspicious worker’s compensation claims from various corporate clients in the state of Virginia. This autonomous position is both journalistic and investigative in nature, and centers around obtaining quality video footage and detailed report rendering on the activities captured by the investigator.” [Indeed]

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Bryan Porter wants to be known for “quiet competence,” except while playing guitar in his office to relieve stress.

Porter, the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Alexandria, is running uncontested as a Democrat for his third term, and says the city has become a safer place under his watch.

“I’ve done my best to be thoughtful, compassionate and understanding,” Porter told ALXnow. “I’ve been ahead of the curve on our Mental Health Initiative and the Drug Treatment Court trying to divert people through criminal convictions wherever possible, our marijuana policy and about five or six different things of which I think I got it right a little bit before the legislature changed their tunes.”

Porter took office in 2014, and spent the next two years completely focused on prosecuting the case of Alexandria serial killer Charles Severance. Porter later wrote a book about the experience, and said that every fiber of his being was focused on a conviction.

“Every ounce of my free time almost had to be dedicated to investigating that case and putting it together and prosecuting it,” Porter said. “It really wasn’t until February of 2016 that I was able to put my entire focus on the office.”

He continued, “A lot of it for me was kind of trial and error, because I had never received any formal training on how to lead and I had never been in a leadership position before… I think I’m a much better leader than I was when I began.”

Porter said that non of his previous experience prepared him for the COVID pandemic.

“In January of last year, the city manager spoke to all of the department heads together,” he said. “He said this was going to be exceptionally difficult, and basically the worst pandemic that any of us had ever seen and that it was going to severely impact the the operations and each of our offices. I think there was a lot of uncertainty, employees were very very frightened about their families, their children, particularly if they had elderly people or children living with an orderly family members, a lot of stress on employees, a lot of unease and anxiety about what the future was going to hold.”

The Alexandria Courthouse is reopening Monday after being closed to the public for more than a year. While traffic citations are relatively caught up, Porter said there is a backlog of jury trials that will take time to sift through.

“For more than a year we’ve been almost incapable of putting on a jury trial,” he said. “The trial schedule for jury trials over the next 12 to 18 months is very full, and we’re trying to litigate cases that have been postponed due to COVID.”

To relieve stress, Porter says he plays an acoustic guitar in his office. During his free time, he also plays in a 90s cover band “Old Bailey and the Bondsmen”, which is made up of law enforcement friends. The lead singer is Tracy Quackenbush Martin, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Halifax County.

“I don’t do it in the morning, because people are busy, but I’ll play it in the afternoon,” Porter said. “Like if I if I need a little stress relief or something. I think that might slightly annoyed some of the people in my office, but I try to be respectful if I get into a song where I have to play some power chords pretty hard.”

Porter, who lives with his wife in Old Town, is an Alexandria native and graduate of T.C. Williams High School, where is father John Porter was principal. He got a degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University, and then briefly served as an Alexandria Police Officer. He went to night school at the George Mason University School of Law, and was hired as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2001.

He recalls not owning many suits after his first election in 2014.

“I remember my dad took me to ‘Today’s Man’ in Bailey’s Crossroads,” Porter said. “He brought me in there and he’s like, ‘Okay, listen. You got to have at least four suits. I’m gonna buy you four suits and four shirts and four ties and a pair of shoes, but since I’m buying they can’t be top of the line.”

Porter said that he doesn’t want to be Commonwealth’s Attorney forever.

“At some point the right call is for you to move on and allow somebody with new ideas and new energy to occupied the time temporarily occupied,” he said. “On the other hand, I don’t think I’m in a position to go out to pasture quite yet. I feel like I’ve brought a lot of energy to the office over the last two terms. I’ve created a lot of positive change, and so for the foreseeable future, I’ll keep going as long as I’m able to bring that type of energy to make positive change.”

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A 20-year-old Alexandria man faces life in prison plus 13 years for five felonies, including the murder of 47-year-old John Pope last fall in the West End.

Pope was shot to death on Sept. 30 at his home in the 5900 block of Quantrell Avenue in the Mayflower Square apartment complex. He later died at the hospital. It was the second murder (of three) that occurred in Alexandria last year.

Tavon Lanier, who was 19 at the time the incident occurred, was indicted with:

  • First degree murder
  • Use of a firearm in commission of murder
  • Robbery
  • Use of a firearm in the commission of a robbery
  • Illegal possession of a firearm

“Alexandria Police responded to the apartment and found John Pope, a 47-year-old Alexandria resident, lying on the floor with an apparent gunshot wound to the abdomen,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter’s office said in a statement. “First Degree Murder and Robbery are both punishable by life in prison. The two Use of a Firearm charges carry a maximum penalty of 8 years in prison. The Illegal Possession of a Firearm charge carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. Therefore, the maximum total sentence in this matter is life in prison plus 13 years.”

A trial date has not been set.

As previously reported, Lanier was released on bond just eight days before Pope was killed. He was arrested on Sept. 22 for for allegedly breaking into his girlfriend’s apartment, stalking and threatening her and was released on bond by the magistrate’s office.

Lanier was convicted of identify theft in 2019, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail with 55 days suspended.

Photo via Facebook

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It was a cold and snowy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on plans to redevelop the GenOn power plant in Old Town North. It looks like deconstruction of the plant will start in 2023 and developers are looking at converting it into an urban, mixed-use property with housing.

The short work week started with news that Alexandria reached 10,000 cases of COVID-19. The latest figures show that there are 10,113 cases and 104 total deaths in the city, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The city’s seven-day moving average is now 35.1 cases.

A 49-year-old homeless woman was found dead in Arlandria on Tuesday morning, and the mayor told us that homelessness is on the rise in the city. ALXnow is following up with the city on the issue.

Tuesday morning also brought news that Alexandria City Councilman Mo Seifeldein abandoned his run for mayor and will not seek reelection to council. Seifeldein was hired as a trial lawyer by the U.S. Department of Labor in Jan. 2020, and while he can finish out his term on council, he can not run unless he files as an independent candidate.

In other election news, the race for city council is starting to get crowded, as Bill Rossello, a co-founder of the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook Group, just threw his hat into the ring.

On the vaccine front, the waiting list has surpassed 45,000 and it may be until late summer that the vaccine is widely available in the city. On Thursday, Mayor Justin Wilson also asked the governor to open vaccine eligibility for restaurant, personal care and retail workers.

More than 200 people responded to this week’s poll on power outages. There have been a number of outages over tha last year, and 73% of respondents reported experiencing an outage, while 26% report that their homes haven’t been impacted.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories this week:

Here are our top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Developers Lay Out Multi-Year Timeline for GenOn Plant Redevelopment
  2. BREAKING: Homeless Woman Found Dead on Mount Vernon Avenue
  3. Alexandria Boxer Troy Isley Goes Pro With Big Fight Next Week
  4. Seifeldein Not Running for Mayor, Leaving Alexandria City Council
  5. ALXnow’s Top Stories this Week in Alexandria
  6. Director of Finance: Alexandria’s Real Estate Assessments Are a ‘Tale of Two Markets’
  7. Local Business Owner Robbed of Car While Pumping Gas at Old Town Gas Station
  8. Torpedo Factory Overhaul Heads to City Council Next Month
  9. Snow: Up to 6 Inches of Snow and Ice Expected in Alexandria
  10. BREAKING: Alexandria Police Investigate Second Car Stolen While Owner Pumps Gas
  11. Local Facebook Watchdog Group Founder Bill Rossello Announces Run for City Council

Have a safe weekend!

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After 16 months in operation, the Alexandria Drug Treatment Court has its first graduate. The program, which the Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney’s Office started with little funding, also just got a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The Treatment Court launched in September 2019 as an alternative to jail for individuals with substance abuse issues. Most participants have been to jail multiple times. Participants usually meets every Thursday in the Alexandria Courthouse, although the building at 520 King Street is largely shut down now due to COVID-19 and meetings have been held virtually.

Program graduate Kim Christian (not her real name) entered the five-phase program in Nov. 2019 and graduated in a virtual ceremony ahead of schedule, as two years is the program average. She regularly met with a case manager, a probation officer, participated in recovery programs and regularly checked up with the court.

Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter said the virtual ceremony was a moving experience.

“One of the most wonderful things about the ceremony was the fact that the graduate, for the first time, had people within the criminal justice system trying to help her achieve something,” Porter told ALXnow. “The graduation ceremony was a true testament to the power of the program, and making a change.”

The new funds will allow Porter to triple the program for up to 30 participants, hire a full-time bilingual therapist, and also hire a treatment court coordinator to take administrative duties off the plate of David Lord, the assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney who has largely led the effort. Drug testing for participants will also be expanded.

Porter said it will take six-to-nine months to hire the new staff and expand the program. In the meantime, he said, the program will be slowly ramped up to increase the number of participants.

“The idea is to try to finally put some resources into them to kind of break that cycle of addiction and then recidivism,” Porter said. “One graduate is great, but we need more graduates.”

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Morning Notes

GoFundMe Raises $29K for Family of Bishop Ireton Student — “It is with a heavy heart that the BI community mourns the death of our fellow classmate Andrew Benson, who was taken from us much too soon. He was one of the nicest people we knew and was a member of the BI varsity soccer team. He played fullback  and was an avid soccer player and was one of the hardest workers on the team. He always had a smile on his face and he never failed to make you smile with a joke or make a stressful or hard day a little better.  Please donate if you can or remember him in your thoughts and prayers. All proceeds go to the family and to help with funeral arrangements.” [GoFundMe]

Holy Cow Honors Sue Kovalsky with ‘Burger of the Moment’ — “Sue, we appreciate you! This #BOTM is for you.” [Facebook]

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter Announces Reelection Bid — “I hope that you will join us online for our campaign kick-off on Wednesday, March 3rd at 7:00 p.m. This will be a great opportunity to learn more about how you can be involved in this campaign and our vision of criminal justice reform.” [Facebook]

Virtual Open House on FEMA Flood Map Update Process — “The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is updating its flood maps of Alexandria and has requested that the City of Alexandria provide community outreach assistance. The City will host a virtual open house on March 1, from 7 to 8 p.m. Residents and businesses are encouraged to participate to learn more about the update to the floodplain maps.” [City of Alexandria]

Bennett-Parker Gets More Endorsements in Race for 45th District Seat — “I’m honored to announce I have been endorsed by Arlington County Board, Vice-Chair @kcristol and Board Member @libbygarvey! Both have an impressive record of public service and I look forward to continuing to work with them on the issues that are important to our region.” [Twitter]

ALIVE! Free Food Distribution Set for Saturday — “On Sat, Feb 20, 8:30-10:30am, @ALIVE4AlexVA will distribute food in Cora Kelly Elem School parking lot and parking lot B-1 of NOVA-Alexandria Campus (map at alive-inc.org, if college closes due to weather, distribution cancelled).” [Twitter]

Today’s Weather — “Intervals of clouds and sunshine (during the day). High 36F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10 mph… Cloudy (in the evening). Snow showers developing after midnight. Low 28F. Winds NE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of snow 80%. Snow accumulating 1 to 3 inches.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Real Estate Photographer — “Nova Virtual Tours, Inc. provides photography, videography, aerials, and interactive 3D Virtual Tours to all industries. We work closely with realtors in the Northern Virginia area to provide them with marketing tools and media to sell their listings, and we also work with commercial clients in many different industries within NoVa and beyond.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer Says Biden Needs Support — “President-Elect Biden must be given all the support he needs to take the helm of government, including swift consideration and confirmation of his team, so that he can take the country forward. We have no time to lose – there is serious work to be done.” [Twitter]

Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter Was on Jeopardy — “This picture is from years ago when I had the opportunity of a lifetime to appear on Jeopardy and personally meet Alex Trebek. He was as warm and engaging as you would think he was. Today we mourn his loss. He was a television icon and philanthropist who left the world a much better place. My heart goes out to the Trebek family and to the families of all who have been impacted by this terrible disease.” [Facebook]

Mayor Reminds Residents of Celebrating Biden Win Without Fireworks — “Just a reminder from your Mayor/Wet Blanket: Fireworks remain illegal in the City of Alexandria #CelebrateResponsibly” [Twitter]

City Recommends Celebrating a Virtual Thanksgiving — “The City and the AHD strongly urge those celebrating Thanksgiving to choose lower risk activities to reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 outbreaks, rather than the traditional indoor gatherings and traveling.” [Twitter]

City Tearing Down Robinson Terminal North — “AlexRenew is demolishing the building as part of its much larger plans to improve Alexandria’s sewer and stormwater infrastructure.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria’s Tree Lighting Goes Virtual on Nov. 21 — “Alexandria’s annual Tree Lighting ceremony that rings in the holiday season will be a little different this year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the event that usually takes place at Market Square will be held online on Saturday, Nov. 21.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Areas of patchy fog early. Partly cloudy skies. High 72F. Winds light and variable. A few clouds overnight. Areas of patchy fog. Low 54F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Development and Communications Specialist — “The Campagna Center’s (TCC) Development Specialist plays a vital role in ensuring that TCC’s donors feel good about their giving. The individual will act as the first point of contact for stewardship activities and donor requests, always presenting an amicable demeanor, a can-do attitude, and appropriately reflecting TCC’s mission and values.” [Indeed]

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The 19-year-old man arrested for the September 30 West End murder of John Harding Pope was released on bond just eight days before Pope was killed.

Tavon Marquis Lanier was arrested  Sept. 22 for allegedly breaking into his girlfriend’s apartment, stalking and threatening her and was released on bond by the magistrate’s office.

“By law, he was entitled to a magistrate’s decision on bail, which occurred in the magistrate’s office while in police custody,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter told ALXnow. “My office by law has no role to play and was not present during that hearing, nor was the defense attorney. The magistrate, based upon what was being told to him by the police officer who made the arrest, determined to release the individual on bail.”

Lanier was convicted last year of identify theft, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail with 55 days suspended. He was set to appear in court on December 4 to provide an update on his progress.

The 47-year-old Pope was shot to death at his home in the 5900 block of Quantrell Avenue in the Mayflower Square apartment complex. He later died at the hospital. Neighbors described the suspect as a light-skinned young man with tattoos on his face.

Pope’s murder is the second homicide this year in Alexandria. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Ryan Clinch at 703-746-6673.

The first homicide occurred a mile-and-a-half away on July 29. In that case, the suspect, Ibrahim Bouaichi, was released on bail and allegedly killed his former girlfriend while awaiting trial. He later killed himself while on the run from police.

Photo via Facebook

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A 39-year-old Arlington man has been sentenced to 65 years in prison for raping two lifeguards at gunpoint in Alexandria and Fairfax County.

Jesse Bjerke, a former nurse at Inova Alexandria Hospital, pleaded guilty last year to raping a lifeguard at a condominium complex swimming pool in the 200 block of Pickett Street on Labor Day weekend in 2016, as well as raping another woman in Fairfax County on August 1, 2014.

“The judgement shows an understanding for the violence and the pre-planning that went into these atrocious crimes,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. “I think it will serve our community since he can’t be a predator on any other woman.”

Alexandria Police were able to locate Bjerke using genetic geneology.

“A DNA profile was developed from the sperm located within the victim, but a search revealed no match in law enforcement databases,” according to the city. “After traditional attempts to identify a suspect were unsuccessful and all leads had been exhausted, the Alexandria Police Department contracted with Parabon® Nanolabs to have the suspect’s DNA analyzed using genetic genealogy. Parabon® investigators used a public access site called GEDmatch to search for relatives of the suspect. Using the list of relatives and the strength of the relationship, Parabon® was able to suggest one suspect for further investigation: Jesse Bjerke, the defendant.”

As part of a plea agreement to avoid the death penalty, Bjerke admitted to raping a lifeguard in Fairfax in 2014, and both cases were tried simultaneously.

“When he is 65, he can apply for geriatric release,” Porter said. “But with my experience with violent crime that’s unlikely.”

Porter congratulated the police on finding the suspect.

“The police department really should be praised and did an outstanding job in corroborating that we have the right man,” he said. “And, of course, that led to a very solid case from an evidence standpoint, which in turn led to him taking responsibility for his crime.”

A description from the city of the 2016 incident is below the jump.

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